Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

Last week I was part of a delegation with the School of the America’s Watch, the non-profit group that is seeking to close down the School of the Americas Military training camp at Fort Benning, GA.  SOAWatch has added to their mission to understand the effects of militarization within Latin American countries and along the border of the USA.  Their hope is this additional understanding will aid in their goal of shutting down the camp at Fort Benning and aid in the goal for humane immigration reform.

So among the many delegations SOAWatch planned this year, one of them was to visit the Arizona/ Mexico border at Nogales.  Nogales is a city divided by the annexation of land in the 1850’s to enable a railroad to not cross the border into Mexico.  Prior to 1994, this was a city where its people crossed the border daily to be with family, to work, to enjoy the mingling of two cultures.

The United States of America has had a schizophrenic approach to immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.  In 1910 we encouraged Mexicans to cross the US border to aid in harvesting crops.  The nation had a distain for Chinese immigrants so the nation passed a head tax on immigrant workers.  However, employers who hired Mexican immigrants were given a waiver on this tax to encourage the hiring of more people from south of our borders. Many of these workers came up seasonally, would follow the harvest north and then when the harvest was done, return to Mexico.  Then when the depression hit, we deported many immigrants back to Mexico but ten years later we were at war and the need for labor to harvest our crops and to build railroads was once again in demand.  Many came across only to be deported at the end of the war with the promise that their final pay would be soon forthcoming. There are still survivors of the Bracero Program living in Mexico still waiting for the USA to make good on their promise of payment.

In the 1950’s we passed two pieces of federal legislation, federal codes 1325 and 1326.  When we talk about the undocumented having illegal presence here, we are referring to code 1325. This code referred specifically to entry without inspection.  It refers to entering our country without going through a specific port of entry.  It is a civil offense, not a criminal offense. Part of the argument that the US Supreme court has with Legislation such as Alabama’s HB 56 is that the State sought to change this civil offense to a criminal offense.

Federal Code 1326 refers to re-entry without inspection after deportation. For those who have no violent criminal records this includes up to a two year sentence, if the person while here in this country also has committed violent crimes, the sentence can be up to ten years.

Along the border six of the 9 sectors are prosecuting individuals who are guilty of 1326, meaning they have been deported at least once before. It is considered a felony.  Operation Streamline, a misnomer because none of the courts are doing this in the same manner, will sentence and convict en mass a number of people charged with violating 1325 and 1326.  In Tucson, up to 70 people are sentenced per day in a court hearing that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two and a half hours depending on the thoroughness of the judge.  The defendants are encouraged to plead guilty to the civil offense of entry without inspection to waive the felony charge of re-entry. We have heard reports of being coerced or simply not having the charges explained and told to simply sign to waive their rights. Prior to Operation Streamline, a person would simply be deported, but now they are given an arbitrary sentence between 30 and 180 days in prison.

The federal court in Tucson since the advent of Operation Streamline in July of 2008, now devotes 60% of their time on deportation cases and no longer focus on violent criminals such as murderers and drug dealers. Of the 31 public defenders hired by the Tucson based Federal court, three are made available per day for these individuals. But to assist in processing such a large number, the federal government contracts attorneys at $125 an hour.  Each person is seen for about ten minutes before the mass hearing in the afternoon.  There is nothing the lawyers can do for their clients other than move them through the system.  Justice is not being served here, only a crass form of cattle ranching the accused.

Congress has told us that the federal government has no money and must sequester costs.  Beginning July 1st instead of rotating in three public defenders once a week to see defendants, the 31 public Defenders in Tucson will be rotating twice a year to see defendants. Because these defendants have the constitutional right to legal representation albeit brief and perfunctory, the contract attorneys will be given additional hours.  All at taxpayers cost.  The immigration bill before congress seeks to increase Operation Streamline to all nine sectors along the border and increase the number sentenced and deported in Tucson from 70 per day to 210 per day.  The court case we witnessed in Tucson carried a price tag just shy of one million dollars, this includes the cost of their prison sentence.  This amount of money is spent every day the court is in session in Tucson.   We are told this is a necessary move to secure our borders. It seems doubtful that removing gardeners and maids is insuring national security. The truth is this is a necessary move to ensure the 90% capacity contractual obligations to Corrections Corporation of America.    Our government is lying to us about the need for sequester when cost is of no concern when of utmost importance is the deportation of non-violent offenders for crossing the border.

In 1994 two events took place.  One was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, aka NAFTA and the other was the building of the wall between the two cities of Nogales. One can only speculate if these two events were connected to each other.  It seems twenty years later the answer to that question is yes.

President Clinton in signing NAFTA into law, said:  “… we have made a decision now that will permit us to create an economic order in the world that will promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment, and a greater possibility of world peace. … through robust commerce …that protects our middle class and gives other nations a chance to grow one, that lifts workers and the environment up without dragging people down, that seeks to ensure that our policies reflect our values.[i] ” None of these outcomes are true.

NAFTA may have created an economic order but it did not promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment or even promote the slightest possibility of world peace. Where ever NAFTA has been implemented there have been massive job loss, displaced people, an increase in criminal networks and cartels, and a growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Also in its wake has been violence and civil unrest as people struggle to maintain what little they have and with fear of losing it all.

NAFTA has several components that were detrimental to the people of Mexico and it is one of the factors that led to a great migration towards the north.  The passage of NAFTA required that the Mexican government repeal Article 27 of their constitution.  Article 27 was the heart and soul of the Mexican Revolution in 1917.  This was the article that promised land to the people in perpetuity. The land was held in communal trust; it could not be sold or traded.  It could be farmed and harvested to feed the people and offer an income.  NAFTA required this be removed, the farmers became owners of the land but the real intention was so US Corporations could purchase the land out from under them.  This was to have devastating results on the Mexican economy which was already fragile after its 1994 financial crisis.

The other piece that NAFTA required was the removal of Mexican farm subsidies to their farmers.  The US farmers however would continue to receive US subsidies and they still do today.  The amount of corn flooding the Mexican market went from 2 million tons in 1992 to 10.3 million tons in 2008. The small farmer could not even grow the corn for the price the US was selling it. Without being able to sell their crops, the Mexicans were unable to pay their taxes and they were forced to sell their land to the US corporations who were eager to purchase it.  The poverty rate in Mexico grew from 35% in 1992 to 55% in 2008.  Over 6 million Mexicans lost employment to the implementation of NAFTA.  President Clinton promised NAFTA would create 200K jobs, a mere drop in the bucket to the number of jobs lost here in the USA and in Mexico.  The wall between our two countries began to take on a new meaning and purpose.

Along the borders of the USA on the Mexican side sprung up Maquiladoras, factories.  Nogales in Sonora Mexico has dozens of factories that are USA owned and ship their products through the Nogales border port of Mariposa.  One would think with all these factories that the people of Mexico are experiencing the development of a middle class in Mexico just as Clinton predicted.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The average days wage for a factory worker is $8 a day.  A pair of shoes made in Mexico and sold in the USA for $100 only yields 4 cents of that $100 to pay the wages of the Mexican worker. The retailer makes $50 the shoe company makes $33 on that pair of shoes.  If that worker was paid a living wage of $15 an hour, and all other costs remained the same, the cost of that pair of shoes would only go up by 60 cents.  It is a lie that cheap labor elsewhere makes for less expensive goods in the USA.   The truth is cheap labor elsewhere increases profits for the retailor and the manufacturer.

NAFTA has not uplifted the people of the Latin American countries.  The only people NAFTA has uplifted are the rich.

After 9/11 there was a rapid increase in the militarization of the border.  The goal stated was to keep the border safe from terrorists entering the nation.  Since militarization of the border with highly skilled marksmen, the number of terrorists that have been apprehended at the border is zero.  We have built surveillance towers that are not used, drones that fly 12 feet off the ground, biometric technology on our own citizens who cross the border daily and not one terrorist has been apprehended, however lots of gardeners and maids have been captured, deported, and sometimes randomly shot and killed. The wall is not protecting the USA from terrorists it is instead an intentional attempt to keep the oppressed from finding freedom and fulfilling their dreams. The ground on the USA side of the wall is deliberately angled and jagged to cause the breaking of ankles and legs of those jumping the wall.

Humanity is a migratory species.  We have always migrated to find new hunting grounds, to find new places to raise crops, and to find new opportunities.  This is part of our evolutionary make up that makes the human beast very adaptable to its environment. How many here today have lived in this town since birth?  Very few.  The human species is a migratory animal and when situations become intolerable in one location, humans will migrate to another location with the hopes that that new land will offer new opportunities to thrive.  Life in Mexico and in other Latin American countries continues to be intolerable with the exception of Venezuela.

That socialist government demonized by the USA has provided during Hugo Chavez’s life improved housing and education for its people. Those living in one room shacks with no running water now are in three bedroom condos with 1.5 baths.  The buildings include a community center where educational programs are provided. Their standard of living has risen where the standard of living in every other country of Latin America and in the United States has declined.  People are not seeking to leave Venezuela because life is livable, dreams are being fulfilled. Our Government has lied about Chavez in part because he fulfilled what he promised to do and the people of Venezuela are uplifted from the extreme poverty that plagued that country.  There are no mass numbers of migrants coming out of Venezuela because there is no need to flee a country that treats its citizens humanely.

Just as the USA border has become more militarized, the Mexican border has become increasingly dangerous with the Mexican Mafia and cartels.  A person can no longer cross the border on their own, to do so is to risk being tortured and possibly killed by the mafia. When I was in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, I heard a heart wrenching tale of two young men who had not heard that they must pay the cartel in order to cross the border. In their attempt to cross over the wall they were approached by a person who appeared to be someone willing to help them.  The person calls on his radio and soon a truck arrives.  The Men in the truck question the two migrants.  They are told they are not allowed to cross without paying the cartel. Who did they pay?  They are the ones that control this territory and they were not paid, so who did they pay? No one they replied. The men over powered them, taped their eyes and mouth shut, taped their wrists and ankles and threw them in the truck.  They drove some distance to a house.  The two men do not know where they are but they can hear chickens and sheep in the back ground. The men interrogate them asking them who they paid to cross the border.  Then the men beat them, place a pistol to their heads and pull the trigger but the gun is empty. This was just for psychological terror.  After a few days of this, a car comes with the head person, who also interrogates them.  He also beats them.  The man wanted to know if they were carrying drugs for another cartel. He eventually states that the men must be lying and that they escaped from a coyote.  So the coyotes who work for this man are brought in and asked if they know these men. If they did, the men were told they would be killed.  But none of the coyotes did so the men were released and told again they must pay to cross.  They wander and see police, they try to get help but the police ignore them.  Then a stranger takes pity on them and convinces the police to help them and they are taken to Nogales hospital.  They learn that the police are sometimes in league with the mafia cartel.

It is important to note who are the mafia leadership. All of the captains of the mafia are members of a Mexican Special Force that defected from the Army called Los Zetas.  “ About 200 of these former Mexican Special Forces … were trained by U.S. Army Special Forces at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1990s.[ii]”  We, the taxpayer, are the accomplices in this violence on the border.

While the Mexican and USA government make public statements that decry the atrocities committed on both sides of the border, neither government has made any move to address the situation.  There are US border patrol agents and Mexican government officials who are allies with the Mafia. The Mexican government does not interfere in part because it supports the doctrine of deterrence that the United States has taken towards immigration from Latin America. This doctrine has been implemented in Arizona and in Alabama; the notion of enforcement through attrition making the environment so horrendous that undocumented individuals will choose to self-deport. Their logic follows that if the process to cross the border becomes easier, then more people would cross but if it becomes increasingly a dance with death, then less people will attempt the passage.

But as one Honduran refugee stated after fleeing the recent coup conducted by School of the Americas’ graduates, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger, then I would rather die struggling to live.”   Such is the determination of a people who are desperate.

One woman I met told her story.  She and her family had lived in NYC for about 13 years.  Her husband’s mother and brother had become ill so they returned to Mexico to take care of them. Their children, one of whom born in NYC and the other only having lived less than a year in Mexico before crossing did not know Mexico, they do not speak Spanish.  They missed their friends in New York and they did not understand Mexican Culture. So after a year they decided to cross back into the US.  The son who was born in the USA purchased airfare and was flown back.  The father was able to cross the desert with no problems.  She and her other son attempted to cross the desert and were caught by the border patrol agents.  They were treated horribly by the agents, pushed and shoved.  They were deported to Nogales.  The mother was able to secure for her son car transportation across the border to New York.  She paid $3800 to do this. While we were there speaking with her, she received a phone call stating her son was now in transit towards NYC, he made it through the desert.  She is relieved. She stated she is determined to join them in the near future.  There is no question in her mind that she will be reunited with her family.  She will not stop until it is so or she is shot and killed.

A friend of mine wrote a song with lyrics of being like a mother bear that will do anything to defend her cubs.   This is the determination of the families who are being deported, separated from their families.  There is no law, no 30 foot high wall, no desert terrain no matter how dangerous can or will deter families from being with their loved ones.

The US government and the media call these people criminals.  How can something as inherent in our evolutionary development as love be criminal?  This is the ultimate lie that my government tells me about people who are immigrants.  May we continue to choose to stand on the side love.



This was presented under the title of “The Cost of Privilege: Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration” to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville in Alabama on 2 June 2013 (c)

No More Deaths: Hiking the migrant trail

Our Delegation on Wednesday went to Arivaca where No More Deaths has a Humanitarian Aid Station  to provide resources and help for the residents and the migrants they may find on their property.  Two people die a day in the Tucson sector.  We drove out to Arivaca Lake a man made lake developed from the run off from the mines near by.  THe lake water is not safe to drink  nor are the fish in the lake safe to eat because of the high concentration of mercury.  In a desert, water is precious and when it might be found, it is suspect of being contaminated by mercury or amoebas that will cause death causing dehydration.   We hiked from Arivaca across the public land to the migrant trail carrying gallon jugs filled with safe drinking water.  THe terrain was steep.  Even with our rugged hiking shoes, many of us slipped on the soft dusty soil and rocks beneath us. Most migrants do not walk the trails in the day time. The sun is simply way too hot.  Along the canyon floor of a dry river bed the temps can quickly reachover 110 degrees with humidity in the low single digits.  After walking about 3/4 miles along the canyon floor in the river bed, we reached the migrant trail also a river bed that was dry.  A flash flood could well up with out a moments notice from a rain storm further away, causing the water level to rise suddenly from nothing to 2 or more feet.

The walk to this point had been despite its steep terrain a fairly easy walk.  But now the walk began to become difficult with low hanging trees to crawl under, barbed wire fences beckoning us to do the limbo dance.  The river bed became part of a steep canyon on either side. The trees over the river bent lower and lower over the dry river bed and there were increasing larger rocks to step up on.  We came to a very narrow part of the river bed,  The rocks were jagged.  There we found a water bottle but our tour guide Steve from No More Deaths noted there was an orange residue inside indicating amoebas.  He said the migrant who drank this water would have gotten sick and probably got the water from a cow cistern.  He dumped the water and crushed the bottled. We dropped a few bottles here in the middle of the trail.  Moonlight would cause the bottles to glow so they would be seen.  A full moon would be the only way, unless they had flashlights,  but flashlights might alert the border patrol, to maneuver these trails at night.  The rocks and trees could easily snare or cause an ankle to break.  A migrant with a broken ankle or leg would be left behind by the coyote guides.  We pushed further up stream. At this location  we also found a burlap bag that would have held about 40 kilos of marijuana.  Many coyotes force migrants to carry drugs through the desert.

We came to an apparent dead end. Ahead of us was a 10 to 12 foot cliff and we were told the migrantsclimb down this cliff.  We were going to climb up it. There were foot and hand holds to do so relatively easily but being a tad acrophobic, this was a challenge for me.  We spotted each other going up. Passing up to those on top water bottles to carry to the last dropping stop. The river bed here was not as narrow as below but it still had the challenge of low overhangs and then there was a cliff on the leeft side and a tree in the middle of the river bed.  A hollow in the cliff was adorned with many objects, rosaries, prayer cards, votive candles to saints, a crucifix.  And there were names, Anof those who had died en route.  We wrote on the bottles with the date and a phrase.  I wrote ‘ vaya con Dios –go with god. ‘

Tonight as I write these words there is a full moon.  I am aware that this is a perfect night for moving along the trail towards an unknown future. The stories of those women migrants that I met today haunt me.  The woman who was told the walk across the desert was only 1.5 hours and four days later she is still in the desert. Her water is gone, Her food is gone. She speaks up about her thirst and the coyote taunts her, drags her across the river beds by her hair, pushes her near steep drops of ravines. She says she thought he was going to push her off.  She wants to succeed and make it into the country, but her thirst is too strong and despite the coyotes taunts to keep going, she stops. Seven others stop with her.  They look for the border patrols.  They light fires at night and the helicopters fly over head and they try towave them down. They are ignored. THe border patrol jeeps drive pass them and still they are ignored.  They make it to a highway.  A border patrol vehicle approaches and appears that it too will pass them by but they wave it down.  The Border patrol give them water, give them food, give them first aid.  Ask where they are headed.  To Phoenix, they reply.  The border patrol says they will drive them there, both knowing that there,  is to deportation.  But this woman is grateful that she is alive.  The desert was too harrowing, the coyotes too abusive.

Another woman tells a story where the coyotes were most helpful and the border patrol were abusive.  Her family were in New York City for many years. Her husband’s mother and brother died  so they returned to Mexico and they stayed for ayear. But their two children, one born in the US and one born in Mexico do not know this foriegn land. They do not speak Spanish.  They miss home.  And so the family decides to return to New York.  The child born in NY boards a plane.  The father passes through the desert  and on to NYC apparently uneventfully.  She with her 13 year old son attempt to cross as well.  They have to pay the mafia in order to cross.  If they do not pay, they will not be allowed to enter the desert.  They are caught by the Border Patrol.  The border patrol show disgust to the migrants.  The son who speaks only english hears the  border patrol say, “these people are really stupid.  They got caught.”  Her son and she are deported back to Nogales.  She enters the woman’s shelter, run by the Kino Border Intitiative, where I meet her.  Shehas paid a coyote $3800 to take her son by car to New York City.  She is happy, she hears that he has made it into the states and is on his way back to NYC to be with his dad and brother.  She says she will do what ever it takes to be with her family.

Sister Engracia who works at the shelter has never seen so much violence at the border in all of her 51 years of religious life. SHe is 68.  Everything is controlled by the mafia. One cannot leave the border either north or south without paying the mafia. She tells the story of two men who tried to cross on their own.  They get to the  wall and they have some trouble going over it.  A man comes along and seems to be a humble and good man.  They think he is going to help them.  He talks on a radio and a truck pulls up.  Mencome out and asks the two men some questions.  Who have they paid to cross the border. No one. They are told they are not going to leave. More questions are asked and thenthe men are taken by force, ducktap is placed over their eyes and mouth. They are handcuffed with tape. Their ankles are taped together and then thrown into the truck.  They drive somewhere, they do not know where.  They hear chickens and sheep in the back ground.  They are placed in a small house and kept there for several days.  More questions.  They are beaten with plastic pipes.  They show the sister the bruises. Pistols are held to their heads and the trigger is pulled but no bullets.  Their fear is palpable.  Another vehicle pulls up.  These are the Mafia bosses.  THey demand to know who sent them to cross here. This is their territory, no one crosses without their say so.  They insist they are alone.  They are told they are lying.  They will bring in their coyotes and if one of the coyotes knows them, they will be killed.  The coyotes come andthey do not know them.  So the two men are taken out of the house and dropped off somewhere.  THey try to get help from the Mexican Police, who ignore them.  Finally, a kind stranger comes along and convinces the police to take them to the hospital. They are treated and lived to tell their tale to Sister Engracia.  She documents all of these stories and sends thme to the Jesuits in DC who are collecting this data.

THe government and the mafia are in alliance with one another here along the border. But as one Honduran, fleeing the recent coup by School of America’s trained militia,  recently told Sister Engracia, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger then I would rather die struggling to have life.”

These are the stories of desparate people who feel they have no other options for their life but to cross where they may find work and perhaps, just perhaps some piece of their dream.  They walk along the dry river beds like the one I helped seed with clean water.  And I pray they cross under the full moon so they will have at least one celestial body guiding their path.

Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 12:21 am  Comments Off on No More Deaths: Hiking the migrant trail  
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Southside Presbyterian Church: Transforming the Heart of America Part II

In 2009 there were some anecdotal stories surfacing of water bottles being vandalized and border patrol agents shooting holes in the bottles.  THe government stated this was not true and it was all anecdotal anyway. SO the University of Arizona did some research and documented the findings substantiating the evidence.  THey produced a report in 2011 entitled Culture of Cruelty.  It can be found online but the government keeps infecting the site with viruses.

THe church did some agreements with the Sector Chief.  He promised not to place surveilence cameras at the water stations because saving lives were more important.  However, in 2005 the New sector Chief said all promises were off the table.  THis  reveals the policies of  the USA Government towards humanity and human rights.  Border Patrol has been destroying water sites and have been ordered to do so.

THere has been an increased of organized crime as a consequence of the militarized border.  In order to get through the desert one has to have Cartels to do it. Read the history of prohibition and you will begin to understand what has happened here.  THis has become an economic enforcement engine.  This region has a long history of an intercountry relationship that was also an economic relationship  that went beyond the border.  Families easily would go back and forth over the border.  THe Cartels have made crossing the border a business.

WHen volunteers would find someone needing emergency care they were able to take them to the hospital.  The  new Sector  Chief threatened to  arrest the providers of humanitarian aid.  In response signs went up all over Tucson declaring’  Humanitarian Aid is never a crime.

There is a belief that keeping humanitarian Aid out of the desert will be a deterence but when you are desparate crossing the desert will be done whether there is humanitarian aid available or not .  No More Deaths  has just arranged a cooperative agreement with the International Red Cross.  THey went and visited the No More Deaths camp, which is on private land.  The International Red Cross will aid in reconnecting families by offering phone services to let families know they are okay. this may seem like a small thing but for a person traveling through the desert, having family know they are okay is huge.

THere have been less border crossings but with the increase of border patrols have meant moving increasingly into more and more dangerous and hazardous terrain.  Violations of human rights by the US has also been increasing.

So what is the SOuthside Presbyterian Church doing now as part of their ministry?  THey have begun Southside WOrker Center.  In the 1980’s the immigrants were political refugees but now they are economic refugees.  THe center seeks to have workers, day laborers hired under fair wage and appropriate healthcare. Beginning at 6:30 AM  and in the summer it will be 5:30 AM, workers come to the church where it is a safe place for them to gather. They have a membership agreement with Community based values of solidarity.  There is a signed contract.

Forming this center was a natural of the congregation as the workers were already in the neighborhood but under shady circumstnces.  SO the church provided space for them to gather.  The volunteers gather contact information of the employers, type of work, number of hours and amount to be paid.  THey seek to have the employers pay a minimum of $8 an hour for unskilled labor but for skilled labor like plumbing, electrical, masonry, etc they seek 12-16 dollars an hour. They also will seek to ensure that wage theft does not happen.  When it does, the volunteers help to retrieve this money for the worker.

In addition to the work, they also have a monthly schedule of activities. THey use a form of popular education.  One example of this was they read the proposed immigration bill and hen analysed it to discover what it would mean for them.  It was from within their perspectives and opinions, it was not someone telling them what the bill was about. They will also havegender based anti-violence workshops and invite other members of the community to come in and provide trainings. THey will also host a leadership academy to grow leaders in the center and in the community at large.  THis also includes a four hour Know your Rights training.  Goal is to have the center community led.

There is a quote by Lila Watson, an indigenous Australian,  that has become an important aspect to the community values:  ” If you came here to help you are wasting your time, but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.

I asked John Fife what has been transformative for him and his congregation.  He replied, it is nothing that he has done but  it is in the relationships developed at the border that have transformed the hearts of his congregation.

And in turn, relationships with the people who are oppressed will if we allow it, transform the heart of America.

Southside Presbyterian Church: Transforming the Heart of America Part 1

In the afternoon the SOAWatch Delegation went to Southside Presbyterian Church to hear Rev. John Fife, past minister of this congregation and Stephanie and Alejandro of the Southside Day Labor Center, a current ministry of the congregation.   THe church is built in the style of a 12th century Kiva of the indigenous people.  The archetecture is 180 degrees of Euro-centric theologic thought.  In Cathedrals everything points up towards heaven. THe art work is filled with Angels, those creatures that are inbetween this realm and heaven above.  Here in the Kiva, the indigenous people go down into the earth, because the earth is sacred.  THe art work is filled with snakes and lizards those creatures that exist in between the realms of this plain and the earth.  So the focus is different and this sets up a different perspective in how one relates with their world.

In the 1980’s the congregation began seeing people who  were fleeing from the US supported wars in El Salvador in 1980 and Guatemala in 1982.  The US refused to recognize them as refugees, to do so would have been to admit that the US was involved in what was happening. THe church tried to help people get political asylum.  THe courts refused even when they saw first hand those with the marks of torture on their bodies.

John Corbett, Quaker, began pointing to the history of those similarly oppressed and the response by people of conscience and the non-actions of the church.  THe Underground railroad of the abolition movement in the US and the refusal of the church to intervene in Europe preceding and during  World War II.  He told John Fife and others, If you are Christians you would understand this history and act on this issue.  So John Fife and Southside Presbyterian Church began smuggling people across the border.  THe US Government got word of this and warned the church to stop or be indicted. They decided to go public.  They thought if they were going to be indicted then they would need the support of the larger church.

An event happened in California where a young teen, undocumented, ran into a local church afterbeing chased by federal agents.  He hid in a closet.  THe federal agents came in and found him.  THe pastor of the congregation asked the question ” why can’t a church be a sanctuary?”  And so on the anniverary of Oscar Romero’s assasination, Southside Presbyterian Church received a family into the congregation and expected to be indicted.  That did not happen.  The government thought if this was ignored it would go away.  However, the congregation thought  if we want to change public policy we have to go public.  And news reporters and tv producers such as 60 Minutes arrived to tell the story.  One cannot plan a movement but only prepare for one.  The purpose of going public was to protect themselves.

The evil policies of the US supported the death squads in Central America.  And the publicity that surrounded the sheltering of these refugees began to attract othercongregations to do the same.  By 1984 234 congregations were on public record as being sanctuary congregations.  17 cities became cities of sanctuary where thepolice and law enforcement were instructed to not arrest or harass immigrants seeking sanctuary. There were colleges and universities that did the same.  Many had placed those seeking sanctuary on their adjunct faculty and taught classes.

At this point the government moved against us. Undercover US federal agents moved in as volunteers in Tucson and in Mexico to spy on activities and secretly record conversations.  These agents infiltrated worship services recording them.  For the first time in US government  history, they acknowledged recording church services.

In 1985, the government indicted 15 people including John Fife.   A few days before the trial, the judge ruled they could not discuss the polictical situations in EL Salvador and Guatemala.  They could not bring in witnesses of or victims of torture, They could not talk about the foundation of their faith that called them to provide sanctuary.  Basically all of their defense argument was denied them.  So if they could not make the case in court, they would take their case to the media.

Duringthe trial the number of congregations offering sanctuary  more than doubled.  THe Judge received 10’s of thousands of letters from across the country and the world. Their pro-bono lawyers were challenged because some of the defendents would be delayed because they were out  transporting refugees and were detained in that process.

A Catholic Nun was to be sentenced first.  The  judge decided to be lenient and offered 5 years probation if she would promise to no longer participate in sanctuary work. The nun  responded, ‘ Judge you have not been listening to anything we have been saying.  I will go back and do sanctuary work because my faith commands me to.’   THe judge called recess and came back with a different sentence.  This was the criminal suit.

When it was over, the defendents sued the US government in a civil suit.  The government delayed the trial for three years but when the trial happened there were wins for changing policy regarding the refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.  These reforms unfortunately  rolled back these gains with the 1996 legislation.

How many people came through the congregations?  The congregation did not keep records  because they did not want anything that could potentially be seized by the US government.  It is estimated that some 13-15,000 refugees passed through Southside Presbyterian.  Those at highest risk were sent on up towards Canada where they could receive political asylum. What was also important is this movement did not fit the norm for movements. There was no central charismatic leader who could be removed and the movement would stop.  THis movement had a lateral base not a pyramid structure.  The US government was therefore unable to stop its influence. The lesson here for social change is this lateral base.

What happens when there is a person on top is this person or group of persons alienate the base because they have to be or tend to be more radical than the base.  This is a fairly consistent result of pyramid structure.   When a movement is lateral across its base with its own leadership and its own policies, then the importance thread  that connects the movement is communication of what everyone else is doing.

The government tried to discredit the leaders from the congregations by stating they  were marxists or anarchists or some other leftist political group but the people knew the congregations and the statements made did not make sense. THis was the synagogue  that has been in the community for 150 years and they  support the poor and disabled. THe accusations did not make sense.

In 1995 the government began ramping up arrests along the California and Texas borders.  The government thought the Sonora desert would never be used as a coridor for migration , it was simply too dangerous.  The  government does not recognise the desperation of poverty.  So  in 1999, 37 bodies were found in the desert.  So the congregations and SOuthside began to  put water out.  A group called Humane Borders was developed and put out 55 gallondrums of water at 45 sites with Blue flags to mark them.   Baased on anecdotal evidence many lives were saved.  But the deaths continued in the desert.

In 2002,  a group sponsored by the church called Samaritans began.  These were volunteers with 4 wheel drives stuffed by doctors/EMTs with water and medical supplies.  They went in search of migrants in distress.  The most common distress was dehydration but just as common were feet blistering.  People wouldener the desert with the shoes that they had, flip flops, high heels and their feet would blister and become raw.   Eventually they would not be able to walk and keep up with their group. They would be abandoned.  Samaritan drivers would sometimes find them crawling on their hands and knees because they could no longer subject their feet to the terrain.  WOmen would be beaten and raped.  THey wouldbe impacted by desert environment health conditions such as heart attacks and strokes or injuries.  People would fall nad twist or break legs.  Risk of rattlesnake bites would also be realized.

In 2004, No More Deaths established a permenant presence by setting up camps to provide water, food, blankets.  Several volunteers were arrested for littering with water filled bottles.

Stories begansurfacing about what happens when people are deported. THey aredropped off on the  other side of the border with no contacts, no resources there.  Many would  simply turn around and try to re-enter.  So in2006 an Aid station at the border was developed to provide resources and food.

To be continued:  Part 2

Changing Our Narrative

 by Rev. Fred L Hammond 7 October 2012 ©

Last spring I delivered a sermon on the Doctrine of Discovery, a 550 year plus old document that set in motion the underlying narrative of the United States of America.  I talked about this doctrine then because our Unitarian Universalist Association was submitting a resolution to our Justice General Assembly in Phoenix to renounce this Doctrine of Discovery and request that all laws that reflect this papal decree be removed from our governing bodies. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of those congregational delegates present.

The story of this country is cast with this doctrine as a preamble to our history and the majority of our country’s actions have the spirit of this doctrine imbedded within them.  To remind us what the Doctrine of Discovery states, let me quote again Pope Nicholas V who in 1452 wrote:

” We grant to you (King of Portugal)  full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens (Muslims) and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same […]and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude. [i]

Pope Nicholas V wrote another edict to protect Portugal from other Christian nations laying claim to lands already claimed by Portugal.  And in 1493, Pope Alexander XI expanded this edict to allow other Christian nations to also lay claim to lands not already claimed by Portugal and gave Christopher Columbus the right to lay claim to the lands he set foot on for Spain.

So the historical narrative of the United States essentially begins in 1492.  We know the poem entitled The History of the U.S[ii]. written in 1919, which begins with the stanza:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
And found this land, land of the Free,
Beloved by you, beloved by me.

It implies that prior to 1492 this land was uninhabited, unknown to anyone, per se.  Columbus found it and introduced to this land European civility—or so we were taught in school.  Yet, there were people already here with a culture that was long established.  Howard Zinn[iii] writes in A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present   “These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.”

Another poem entitled In 1492 by Jean Marzollo first published in 1948 about Christopher Columbus contain these closing stanzas

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American?  No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

This isn’t exactly what happened after Columbus landed in the Caribbean but it is what we teach our children.  Some histories will make mention that the encounter of Columbus and his crew with the native peoples of the island went according to Columbus’ plan of enslavement and genocide but this mention is equivalent to a footnote.  While these histories do not deny the atrocities they do not make it central to Columbus’ mission. Columbus wrote the following to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand[iv],

I took by force six of the Indians from the first island, and intend to carry them to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose instead to have them all transported to Spain, or held captive on the island. These people are very simple in matters of war… I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased… They are very clever and honest, display great liberality, and will give whatever they possess for a trifle or for nothing at all… Whether there exists any such thing as private property among them I have not been able to ascertain… As they appear to have no religion, I believe they would very readily become Christians… They would make good servants… They are fit to be ordered about and made to work, to sow, and do aught else that may be needed, …

To sum up the great profits of this voyage, I am able to promise, for a trifling assistance from your Majesties, any quantity of gold, drugs, cotton, mastic, aloe, and as many slaves for maritime service as your Majesties may stand in need of.”

In the short time after Columbus’ arrival the population of what is now known as Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba was reduced from 3 million to 60,000.  The people of these islands died; some to European diseases like small pox and others through genocidal killing and suicide for not being able to secure the gold amounts desired.

Howard Zinn in his text writes[v], To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.”

And this has been our stance in the Americas ever since. We called it by many names; Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, and today American Exceptionalism. It is a part of our narrative that covers up or hides many sins that we have committed as a nation.  And it is this narrative that we teach our children in schools.  America is best.  America is the greatest.  America is the home of the brave and land of the free.  America can do wrong in its eyes.

Of course the question arises, who is this America.  From the earliest days of this republic it was white men who were America. This is a White supremacist narrative that is presented to the world.

Congress in 1790 enacted this law:  All free white persons who have, or shall migrate into the United States, and shall give satisfactory proof, before a magistrate, by oath, that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for one whole year, shall be entitled to all the rights of citizenship.[vi]

Now in 1790 all the rights of citizenship only pertained to white men who owned property, white women were not granted all the rights of citizenship. And in many states Jews and Catholics were also not granted all the rights of citizenship.  The definition of who was white in America was narrowly determined. Benjamin Franklin gives a definition of whiteness in 1751:  “[vii]That the Number of purely   white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is   black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians,   French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call   a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only   excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People   on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased.”

Today there are texts written entitled How Jews became White Folks and How the Irish became White.  Our narrative as a nation was told from the perspective of Whites as the only sanctioned narrative.  To go against this narrative is considered sedition. That is a strong statement but it is a true statement nonetheless.

Especially if you listen to some of the conservative voices in this country going against the narrative is indeed seditious.  The narrative of America as told is being destroyed by having a Black president.  Te-Nehisi Coates[viii] in his article in Atlantic Monthly proposes that the furor over whether Obama has an American Birth Certificate or proclaiming him to be a Muslim is a means to maintain the white narrative of America.  If Obama is not an American or is a Muslim then he is not really the president of the USA and the white narrative of America is preserved.  There is a photo going around FaceBook of a poster at a Koch Brothers sponsored protest against Occupy New York that reads, “I’m dreaming of a White President just like the ones we use to have…”

Preserve the narrative of America at all costs.  Obey our laws, obey our cultural norms.  Do not disrupt the 550 plus years of white narrative that declares whites as superior over all others.   In 1635[ix], a native person allegedly killed an Englishman in Maryland. The English demanded the native be handed over to them for punishment under English law.  The chief answered how they would handle the native and refused, saying “you are here strangers, and come into our country, you should rather conform yourselves to the customs of our country, than impose yours upon us.”   But to do that would have made the doctrine of discovery invalid.  It would have changed the narrative of supremacy.

Arizona HB2281 which was signed into law and into effect December 2011 banned the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona schools.  The ethnic studies specifically banned were Latino ethnic studies.  This law states that “School[s] in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

  1. 1.    Promote the overthrow of the United States Government.
  2. 2.    Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
  3. 3.    Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

At the heart of this ban is a course of studies that were taught at the public schools in Tucson, AZ. Tucson is a community of about 47% Anglo, 42% Latino and the remaining 11% being Black, Native American, or Asian.  In the public school district the demographics change because many whites attend private or charter schools making Latinos to account for 62% of the student population.

The Mexican American Studies program was considered seditious because it taught the history of the indigenous people of the America’s from the perspective of the indigenous people.  History of the indigenous people did not begin in Europe with the Greco and Roman empires but rather with the Aztec’s and Mayan’s.  Columbus’ arrival was not the heroic event that unfurled the ability of Europeans seeking to breathe free but rather as the beginning of an invasion that destroyed civilizations and enslaved and ransacked human and natural resources. It placed the context of the land of Arizona in its thousands of year old histories of a proud people who lived in this land and had its resources taken away from them, first by the Mexican government and then by the United States government. The bumper sticker of the immigrant rights movement, ‘we didn’t cross the border the border crossed us’ is not just a sound bite it is an historic fact of a people living in the southwest.

Theirs is a narrative that highlighted the values of community that holds itself together. The sharing and generosity that Columbus found in the Taino tribe of the Arawak people is not seen as a weakness but as a strength of their heritage.    Yet, it is this ethnic solidarity in a community value that was made illegal by the Arizona law in favor of the strident American individualism. American individualism where the pursuit of capital gain is not to uplift the society but only to increase the privilege and power of the one receiving the gain.  This is not the society that neither Columbus nor any of the Europeans encountered when they arrived on these shores.  Europeans encountered the culture of Iroquois Chief Hiawatha, who said, [x]We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness.” A Jesuit priest who encountered the Iroquois wrote, [xi]No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers… their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common…”

And while I am not so naïve to think that the native cultures of the America’s was idyllic, these are narratives that need to be incorporated into the American narrative as a whole in order to sort out and sift the wheat from the chaff.  There are aspects of cultures found right here in these lands that could aid in the redemption of the American narrative that has spawned centuries of white supremacy and violent racism against others.

The Mexican American Studies program was one of those programs that sought American redemption through the telling of a history from the perspective of the native people’s point of view.  These students have the potential to contribute to our society if they are given the tools to understand where they fit in the narrative of this country.  They get to begin to rewrite that narrative to include their achievements, their cultural contributions.

The high school drop out rate of Latino’s nationally hovers around 56%.  The Tucson school district after implementing their Mexican American Studies program found the drop out rate decrease to 2.5% in the school district. Tucson students who attended this program did better in state exams as compared to their peers in other schools.  The students found that they found a reason why education was important for them to pursue. They discovered that education was relevant to their life experiences.

Clergy in Tucson[xii] wrote a letter in support of the Mexican American Studies program.  They wrote:

“As people of faith, we recognize how important our history and stories are to us. Scriptures are nothing more than the passed down stories of people who wanted their children and their children’s children to remember the ways in which God had moved within their lives and in the course of human history to bring forth freedom from slavery, forgiveness from retribution, love from hate, and grace from sin. The history of the people of faith within sacred scripture has never been the dominant history; our history is not the history of Egypt but the history of the Hebrew slaves, not the history of Babylon but the history of those carried away into captivity, not the history of Herod but the history of a refugee family who had to flee to Egypt, not the history of Rome but the history of a peasant named Jesus and his followers.” The same is true of the Mexican American Studies program; it is a history of a conquered people, the indigenous people of these lands.

Howard Zinn recalls a statement he once read that stated, [xiii]The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

Yes, the story the Mexican American Studies program tells is counter to the narrative of this nation but it’s aim is not to raise up people with seditious acts but rather to honor the lives of those lost.  To glean from their stories the richness of their lives and the lessons their lives still have to offer us.

It may come as a bit of surprise to folks that tomorrow has two names as the holiday.  It is Columbus Day, a day in which Alabama anyway, seeks to honor those of Italian heritage. It is also American Indian Heritage Day, a day to honor the contributions of the native peoples from these lands.  It may seem odd that Alabama is only one of a few states and municipalities that honor the native people of this land officially. I hope Alabama gets why honoring Native Americans tomorrow is so important in our country.

This state also continues to honor Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Confederate Memorial Day.  And I think I now get why it is important for Alabama to honor and remember these people from a painful time in our nation’s history when ideologies clashed so brutally.

In order to fully live up to our potential as a people we need to understand our story as a nation. We need to change our narrative to include the fullness of our story; the good, bad, and ugly truths of our story.  It would be easy and it has been easy for parts of our history to fade away because they are too shameful, to painful to face.  We have done this in America.  We have tried to forget the Japanese Interment camps during World War Two. We have tried to forget the turmoil and unrest of the Civil Rights era.  We have tried to forget the brutal murders of sexual minorities like Matthew Shepard and the thousands who commit suicide because their sexual orientation is not viewed acceptable by society. And I am sure there are some of us who would prefer that the Undocumented remain in the shadows of America.

But if this country is to live up to its most sacred creed, then we must do its work to undo white supremacy and white privilege where ever it is established. It does not serve us well, it never ever did.


[ii]  Poem written by Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr.

[iii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 72-75  | Added on Wednesday, October 03, 2012, 04:41 PM

[iv]  from the poem Columbus in the Bay of Pigs by John Curl

[v] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 214-16  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:02 PM

[vi] As found in the article “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates


[viii] “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

[ix] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn) – Highlight Loc. 456-60  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:39 PM

[x] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 426-31

[xi] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 431-35


[xiii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 252-53  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:09 PM

Coming Out… of the shadows

There is a series of opinion pieces in today’s NY times asking the question if Coming Out as undocumented is a good idea?   The writers are debating the No Papers  No Fear Bus that left Phoenix, AZ on Sunday and will spend the next several weeks visiting and challenging states through out the south on SB 1070’s copy cat laws.  One of those stops will be Tuscaloosa, AL where I serve as minister. My congregation will be welcoming their presence and service to bring to light the impact of these laws on our neighbors.  (you can read more about this bus here)

The comments this article received from the LGBTQ community are fascinating.  Those writing feel the term Coming Out is somehow owned by the LGBTQ community and therefore should not be co-opted by the immigrant community.  One writer wrote:  “What LGBTA people do has never been wrong, unfair or immoral and it has never hurt others. That gay sex has been made a crime in the past was due simply to blatant discrimination.”  Oh the irony!  Tell that to Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A or to the Salvation Army which recently affirmed that gays deserve to be put to death. I am sure they would enjoy the chuckle.

The journey to come out as gay is a journey of re-claiming one’s dignity and integrity after years of enduring hostile environments filled with subtle  micro-aggressions and blatant violence and discrimination; not to mention laws that criminalize behavior, deny hospital visitations, survivors benefits, child rearing, etc.;  all of which demean one’s life to insignificance. There are families of gay couples who have lost their children because some judge determined that the biological and gay parent was not fit to raise their children.There are parents told that the only way they could see their children is if they hid their primary identity from view.  There are laws in states where families are separated by laws that prohibit gay parents to raise their children.  There is a move to legally declare the act of raising a child in a gay household as child abuse.

How are these painful experiences different from the experiences of undocumented people having their families split up because of laws that determine an undocumented parent cannot remain in the States but cannot take their US born children with them?   There is no difference in the experience of pain suffered.

The argument that the undocumented chose to be undocumented and gay people do not choose to be gay does not justify the pain experienced.  It is insulting and dehumanizing to make such a claim.  It is a shallow argument.

It’s shallow because it is the same argument used against the LGBTQ community.  Dan Cathy and his ilk say the same about LGBTQ’s: They say gays choose to live this life.  Gays deserve no special rights to reduce their pain because it is the consequence of their choice.

Coming out of the closet was an effective means to let the Dan Cathy’s know that we are everywhere, including in your own family. It brought the pain home to the family.  The American Family needs to know the pain that immigrants endure.  Coming out of the shadows may also be an effective means to letting the American people know the story of pain endured by our convoluted and corrupt (corrupt as in a computer file corruption) immigration system.

Many people migrate here not because they chose to but because there was no other choice available to them.   And every citizen in this country have known families that moved because they were forced to move not because they chose to move.  They moved because their place of employment was closed down by merger or went bankrupt.  They moved because their loved one needed to be closer to better medical facilities.  That is the reality of our global community. People in desperate situations are sometimes forced to move.

Why would anyone knowing the risks involved come out as undocumented?  Maybe because they like those of us who are LGBTQ want to re-claim their dignity and integrity after years of being of living in the shadows  as Americans but undocumented. But don’t take my word for it, let’s ask those who did last Tuesday in Phoenix before we start judging their decisions.  We might learn we would do the same thing if living in their shoes.

Published in: on August 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm  Comments Off on Coming Out… of the shadows  
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Spin Academy and SEIRN Conference

This has been a very busy time for me, filled with lots of travel some vacation but mostly work related travel.   Two of my most recent travels included two conferences that will enrich my work with immigration, especially as it pertains to Alabama’s HB 56 and HB 658.

I was able to attend Spin Academy which teaches organizers how to shape our message and work with various forms of media.  It is important, for example, for our messaging to parallel the values of the community.  That seems like common sense but sometimes there is a misalignment there.

Not to pick on Mitt Romney’s campaign but only to use his campaign as an example of this point.  He recently spoke at the NAACP’s meeting.  His message was that he was supportive of the African American community.  His message was that he was in touch with their needs.  And then he stated he was going to repeal Obamacare and received boos from the audience.  There was a mismatch between the message  and the values he was aiming to resonate with in the African American community.

The African American community has strong child centered values.  Many children in the African American community are experiencing the benefits from this legislation.  To repeal legislation that supports their children’s well being is a brutal attack on their community. The message of being in touch with the needs  of the African American Community did not mesh with the values that repealing Obamacare expresses.   He would have done better had he simply stated that his platform is not in sync and what could he do to make his platform reflect their needs. If we are trying to win the hearts and minds of others then we have to be able tap into the values of the community with our message.

An example of this being done well is also in the conservative camp.  The emphasis on family values resonates with many Americans regardless of political allegiance.  The conservative messengers have been able to tie their message to family values.  We need to be able to be as successful in tying our message for immigration reform to the values we honor and respect in this country.

The rest of Spin Academy was focused on technical skills that would enable such messaging to occur such as how to use social media, print, radio and television venues to get our message across.  It was an excellent event.

This event was then paired with my attending the Southeast Immigrants Rights Network (SEIRN) conference in Raleigh, NC. What struck me as unique about this conference from any other conference, on any other issue, I attended before was the depth of skills being taught to a majority of grass roots organizers.  We are behind the eight ball in the immigration struggle for justice in the south east.  Many of us thought, perhaps naively, that such blatant codification of racism against any group would not happen here in the heart of the civil rights movement.

So we are on a steep learning curve.   How to develop a strong base.  How to develop strong coalitions.  How to develop campaigns that are strategic and concise in its message for repeal and for justice.  These were met head on in the SEIRN conference.  One full day of workshops and sharing stories of success by other allies in other justice fronts and then one day of deep dialog on four topics:  Strong campaigns, Power building, Integrative change models, and Alliance and Relationship building.  These were interactive dialogs integrating and processing all that we had learned the day before.

We ended the day with developing an action plan for developing a regional strategy for immigrant rights.  This was  exciting, albeit exhausting, work.  I have renewed hope that we can and will make a difference in the struggle for immigrant rights in this  country.

Published in: on July 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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Doctrine of Discovery

Sermon given on May 6 2012 © Rev. Fred L Hammond to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.

It seems appropriate that we should be talking about this Doctrine of Discovery in light of this past weeks events because the two are directly related to how we, as people of the United States are conducting our policies towards immigrants here in Alabama and in the nation.

The Doctrine of Discovery also called the Doctrine of Christian Discovery is founded on a series of papal bulls or edicts written between 1452 and 1493.  The first was from Pope Nicholas V in 1452 called the Dum Diversas. It states the following:

” We grant to you (King of Portugal)  full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens (Muslims) and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same […]and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude. [i]

This edict gave sanction for Portugal to invade Africa, take its resources, and begin what was to be called the African Slave Trade.

The second edict Romanus Pontifex  also written by Pope Nicholas V in 1455 followed up on the first papal bull confirming Portugal’s right to dominion over all lands discovered and / or conquered from the Saracens and pagans and it reaffirmed the enslavement of these people.  This edict was written to prevent other Christian nations from colonizing lands that Portugal laid claim.  The third edict Inter caetera written by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 gave the right for explorers and nations to lay claim on lands unknown to Christians. It added a clause requiring the proselytizing of the inhabitants to Christianity.   It also gave permission for Christopher Columbus  in 1493 to lay claim to the lands he set foot on for Spain.

It is this Doctrine of Christian Discovery based on these three papal bulls that became the basis for the United States claim to the Americas. The assumption here was that once the Europeans were no longer the rulers, the authority to subjugate new lands in the Americas fell on the emerging nation.

The US Supreme court in 1823, in Johnson v McIntosh used the doctrine to state that Johnson had no claim to the land he purchased directly from the native peoples because the land already belonged to the US government.  This ruling meant that the indigenous people only had the right of occupancy so long as the US government allowed it and could at anytime revoke the right of occupancy.  This was upheld in the US Supreme Court ruling of 1831; Cherokee Nation v Georgia.  Justice Marshall wrote that “the relationship of the tribes to the United States resembles that of a ‘ward to its guardian’.[ii]”  This resulted in the trail of tears when Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole were moved to “Indian Territory” known as present day Oklahoma.

We see this doctrine in the footprint of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States should expand from coast to coast.  Historian William E. Weeks suggested three themes were in the concept of Manifest Destiny:  1) The virtue of American Institutions; 2) the mission to spread these institutions thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the US; and 3) The Destiny under God to do this work. [iii]

The first of these themes is today heard in the concept of American Exceptionalism, the belief that America has not only a unique role to play but a divine calling in spreading liberty and democracy in the world.  It is American Exceptionalism that feeds the erroneous belief that America is the greatest country ever, that might makes right, and that we have the right to be the police unto the nations and thereby interfere in the internal and external affairs of nations, even to intervene with force the over throw of governments we no longer approve of, regardless of whether they were democratically elected or not.  America in playing out this exceptionalism interfered with the governments in Latin and South America through out the 20th century and with governments in the Middle East contributing to the current crisis that is ongoing.  All of these policies are grounded in the papal bulls that were written over 550 years ago by Popes of the Roman Catholic Church.

And we recently saw the Doctrine of Discovery in Candidate Newt Gingrich’s vision of a Moon colony that would then become a state of the United States. While many people scoffed at his vision, it is rooted firmly in this Doctrine of Discovery; we plant our flag, we claim it by colonization then it is rightly ours and ours alone to exploit as we choose. And if there really is a man in the moon, then he must be enslaved to the invading forces.

In a sermon recently given by Rev. Matt Alspough[iv], he states, “So we’ve based a significant part of our American political practice on the Doctrine of Discovery, that small act of political expediency enacted by the Catholic Church. We’ve seen that American acceptance of this Doctrine opened Pandora’s Box out of which poured many of our society’s ills: the slavery of Africans as economic practice, our most tragic war over that practice, and the morass of racism that continues to this day. It framed our treatment of indigenous peoples in our country, a history of forced relocation and genocide, imposing on them western religion and practices, sometimes taking their children from them. It has influenced our confusion about immigration, particularly the migration of indigenous peoples in the Americas, many of whom are on the move because United States policies in Latin America have limited economic opportunities for these people.”

This brings us right up to our present day, doesn’t it?  This is the reason why it is important to understand our history, even history that is over 500 years old still has an impact on the decisions, on the values, on the culture we express today. And the people who make these decisions in places of authority might not even have a clue as to what they are reinforcing because to them it seems so natural, so logical, so matter of fact that of course this is the way it must be. Surely the pilgrims and the puritans who came to these shores would have repudiated anything that came from Catholicism had they fully understood the source of their alleged superior dominionist attitude.  Well, perhaps not, since such an attitude benefited them in their forging their way on these shores. But the reason as to why we do something a certain way in this country may not be because we consciously chose to do it that way but rather because some racist, Christian supremacist declared it to be the will of god and it steam rolled across the ages and became part of our cultural DNA.

So here we are 560 years later, still immersed in cultural norms and mores and in laws that seek to place dominion over another people. We still have a belief in this country that we can do whatever we want with the earth, ravage its minerals, its lumber, its water to serve our purposes and to hell to everyone else.

This doctrine influences our water access in the southwest.  We know we absolutely know that the rain that falls in the Rocky Mountains and enters the Colorado River supports life through out the desert on its route to the Gulf of California.  But our laws state that if the water falls on United States then it belongs to United States and so we seek to trap it in the desert with major dams across the Colorado River. We then catch the overflow by other avenues so that we can water the non native grasses and water hungry potato farms and supply water to swimming pools in communities like Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson.

We are not being sensible when it comes to water in the southwest, yet because of this ingrained doctrine of domination over the land and its native peoples we take what we want for our own greedy purposes and privilege. All of these actions are to the detriment of the indigenous peoples and species that live along the border and dependent on the spring runoffs for their survival.   The waters of the Colorado River never make it to the Delta in the Gulf of California causing extinction fears of the rare indigenous species that live in the gulf.

The people who live in Sonora were part of a nomadic tribe that traveled north into Arizona and back south again, a pattern they followed for 10,000 years.  Now the border walls prevent these people from their nomadic customs over land that has been theirs.  The chant that I heard when I was in Arizona for the day of non-compliance was “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.” This is a very real statement.  Two countries, Mexico and the United States, developed borders without regard to the indigenous peoples that lived there.The Doctrine of Discovery was in operation through out the Americas.

As we come to better understand the ancient peoples of this land, we discover that the Aztec’s realm extended far into Georgia.  Many of our immigrants from Latin America today are descendants of the Aztec and Mayan people as well as other indigenous peoples.  So in some ways it could be said that immigrants from Latin America are coming home.

The state of Alabama is playing the Doctrine of Discovery by insisting that it has the right to determine who shall live within our state borders. This is currently constitutional under Johnson v McIntosh but should it be when so many of the immigrants are in fact indigenous people of these lands.  The question really becomes can we continue to tell native peoples where they can and cannot live, when it is the descendants of Europeans who are the non-natives here?

Bruce Knotts, Director of the UUA United Nations Office[v], writes: The Doctrine of Discovery violates human rights on its face.  It states that any Christian discovery of non-Christian people, gives the Christian nation the right to claim the land and enslave the people, which many European nations did all over the world.  The vestiges of these terrible crimes remain with us today.  We have imposed relatively modern borders onto ancient indigenous nations.  These newly established colonial boarders divide indigenous nations.  Families are cut off from each other.  Nowhere is this as bad as it is in our American Southwest, where some families and nations of indigenous people are on one or the other side of the American/Mexican border.  The American government makes no provision for people of one indigenous nation (which may have existed for over a thousand years as a cohesive people) are divided by a border established less than two hundred years ago.  Our immigration authorities make visits and commerce within one indigenous nation divided by the American border nearly impossible to achieve.  The Doctrine of Discovery, purports to give us the right to do what we never should have had the right to do; which is steal the land of others and to enslave the owners of the land we have stolen.  The hard work of restoring justice in this world must begin with a total and complete repudiation of the doctrine of discovery.

We have been asked by our national partners in the fight for true immigration reform to join the Roman Catholic Church in revoking this doctrine.  The Holy See in April 27 of 2010 confirms that the Papal Bull of 1493 Inter Coetera “has been revoked and considers it without any legal or doctrinal value.[vi]” Further the Episcopalians and the Quakers have also passed resolutions repudiating this doctrine.

So while we are in Phoenix for our General Assembly, the UUA has proposed a resolution for us to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and to urge the Federal government to fully endorse and implement without qualification the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed by 144 countries with four votes against. The four votes against this resolution included Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.  These four countries have large indigenous populations within their borders.

The action of civil disobedience that I performed this past week is brought into even finer focus with the Doctrine of Discovery as the context in which HB 56 and its revision bills are placed.  Tupac Acosta from Arizona speaks frequently about the connection of SB 1070 and the Doctrine of Discovery.  He says, “the purpose of SB1070 was to consolidate the perceptions of some white Americans around the idea of an America that is white in a continent that belongs to them.[vii]

I would suggest that this is what is happening in Alabama as well.   It is time for us to put an end to our domination culture.  It is time for us to live up to our higher ideals and values of loving our neighbors.  As I recently wrote in a blog in response to Governor Bentley’s comment about the bible stating one must always obey the law, I quoted another verse from the chapter he referred to:  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. May we strive to always fulfill the law.

[iv] Sermon: Doctrine of Discovery – Rev Matt Alspaugh, Unitarian Universalist Church, Youngstown, OH as found at

[v] Human Rights Violation – Bruce Knotts, Director UUA United Nations Office as found at

Love Does No Harm to a Neighbor

“If they read what I read in the Bible, the Bible says you always obey the law,” said Alabama Governor Bentley in response to Alabama’s Conscience act of civil disobedience against HB 56 on May 3, 2012, National Day of Prayer.

(photo by L. Robledo)

Governor Bentley is in need of some Bible lessons.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have healed on the Sabbath because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true then the Boston Tea Party in 1773 by the colonists would not have happened because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statements are true, then the Declaration of Independence would never have been written or signed because the law must always be obeyed.

If his statements are true then Alabama’s Governor George Wallace’s statement of “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation forever” would still be the law of Alabama because the law must always be followed.  Thank God for people of conscience who recognize an unjust law and deliberately disobey to overturn that law.

If his statement is true then Paul, who authored the text that Governor Bentley is referring,  would never have confronted the emperor regarding Christianity because the Christian faith was considered illegal, an act of treason.   So even Paul did not believe one must always obey the law.

This statement of Bentley’s reveals that he has no understanding of his own faith tradition of Christianity.  His own faith as a Baptist came about because people of conscience disobeyed the law.  It was illegal to be of any other faith than Anglican when John Smyth declared his Baptist faith.  But if Governor Bentley is correct that the Bible says you always obey the law, then his own faith is illegal, twice over because John Smyth broke the English law decreeing the Church of England as the one faith and the Church of England broke the law when it severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church over the doctrine of divorce–another law that according to Bentley’s argument must be obeyed.  Remember that church law and civil law were one and the same in the time of the reformation.  There was no separation of church and state.

The context of Romans 13 which Bentley refers also includes Romans 13: 6 and following: This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor.   No harm.  That is the criteria in which to obey the laws of government, the Bible states. Yet, HB 56 does do harm to our neighbors.  Our Immigrant neighbors are working hard, paying taxes, building up the community, creating businesses which strengthen the economy.  Immigrant neighbors with the same expressed dreams for a better life for their children.  This law seeks to rid our communities of people who are doing no harm, who are loving and caring for their community.  Governor Bentley noted this in his commemoration speech regarding the anniversary of Tornado recovery efforts in Tuscaloosa when he referred to the status of citizenship of those who were first responders.   Governor Bentley loves undocumented people when they are of usefulness to him but otherwise he has disdain for his neighbors who seek to make Tuscaloosa a better place for all to live.

This law has encouraged people to express their bigotry and prejudice against their neighbor.  Therefore any law that causes harm to their neighbor, using Bentley’s argument of always following what the Bible says, is not a law that is to be obeyed.  Such a law must be disobeyed. It must be broken time and time again because it goes against a higher law, which is the law of Love.  I choose to stand on the side of Love.

It’s no Exaggeration HB 658 is Mean Spirited

Rep. Micky Hammon stated  before voting to move the revision bill HB 658 out of committee that “Churches need something written in crayon because they exaggerate.”  Exaggerate?

It is not an exaggeration that children of documented immigrants are being bullied in school as a result of passage of HB 56. These are people whom, Rep. Hammon said would have nothing to worry about because they are legal in this country. Yet, here we are, children, legal children of parents with legal status being bullied simply because they are immigrants.  It is not an exaggeration that our neighbors who are legal residents are being harassed by strangers in public arenas for looking like an immigrant. Strangers have accosted them and screamed at them to go home to Mexico. These are people who are born in Alabama but happen to be of brown skin.  Again, people Rep. Hammon said would have nothing to worry about because they are of legal status.  It is not an exaggeration that immigrants, legal status, are followed by police after they leave a Mexican grocery store or restaurant, simply because they are brown.   It is not an exaggeration that immigrants are being called vectors of disease by a radio show host after one case of Hepatitis A was discovered at a Northport fast food restaurant.

These events of racial hatred are all a result of HB 56.  This law supports the creation of a hostile environment not only for Rep. Hammon’s targeted audience for attrition through enforcement but for every immigrant.

During the public hearing for SB 41, Senator Beasley’s bill for repeal, Senator Hank Sanders compared these very experiences to the ones he had as a child growing up before Civil Rights in Alabama.  The fear is palpable and it is real.  Immigrants, US born and documented, do have to worry in Alabama that they may be racially profiled not just by law enforcement but by the average citizens who believe they are doing their citizenship duty.

It is also not an exaggeration to state that Rep. Micky Hammon’s statement reflects a disdain for religious values that guide humane behavior.

Churches, congregations, synagogues, and other houses of religious practice are the holders of the values that a society ought to reflect.  These are values that reflect who we ought to be as a people, as a community, as a state, and as a nation.  Every religion has in their core values the premise of loving your neighbor as yourself.  Every religion has in their core values the honoring and preserving the integrity of the family unit.  Every religion has in their core values the welcoming of strangers.

These values are also not an exaggeration.  They are central to our faith traditions.  We sing about them in our services.  Our weekly readings of the Scriptures reflect these values reinforcing that which we seek to see in the world. We either live these values in our daily lives or we do not.

When these values are contrasted with the values expressed in HB 56 and its revision bill HB 658, it is clear that they conflict with the core message of our faith to welcome the stranger for we too were once strangers  in the land of Egypt.

HB 658 must not be passed into law.  It goes against every core value our religious state proclaims as worthy to be emulated.  That is not an exaggeration, Rep. Hammon, that is the holy truth of who we are called to be.